Phil: What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?
Ralph: That about sums it up for me.
— Groundhog Day
Last night Nora and I watched Harold Ramis’s small miracle of a movie again. We’d seen it when it came out, never since. Hard to believe that was before Netflix, before the Web almost.
Perhaps you haven’t seen it? If you can, do not pass Go–order it now. Put it at the top of your queue.
I thought I would remember everything about the movie. But actually, all I remembered was its pleasure and premise. From that, my brain had constructed a hologram. So watching again was a constant surprise–all the details were fresh.
“It’s like all you have left is a trailer,” Nora said. “And not even that.”
Every year, Phil (Bill Murray), a spoiled brat of a TV weatherman, must travel with his producer (Andie MacDowell) and cameraman from Philadelphia to Punxsutawney, PA. On the morning of February 2nd they tape a Groundhog Day segment that Phil detests doing.
On this particular February 2nd, it snows after the taping and Phil can’t leave town. Essentially, he’s got a day off. Next morning, Phil wakes and discovers it’s still February 2nd. He has to live the day over.
The next morning it’s February 2nd again. February 3rd never arrives. Phil is stuck re-living February 2nd for the whole movie, although each time he’s free to make different choices.
Everyone else in the movie is living the day as if for the first time–they assume Phil is too. Except he isn’t. He knows he’s been there before.
There’s no way out. Phil can’t kill himself (he tries), he can’t leave town–the storm has closed the roads. Actually there’s one way out. Phil can do the day right.
But he doesn’t know this.
Phil discovers he’s free to do anything–it’s all erased come the next day, except in his memory.
He screws up the video segment intentionally. No matter, he still has the job the next morning. He sucker punches a guy who irritates him–the guy’s back in the morning.
It goes on, presumably, for years. Phil figures out how to get laid, how to get money. He meets everyone in town, learns to play piano. He does everything he thinks he wants–that is to say, what the cynical, hurt, manipulative, self-centered part of him wants.
None of which works out.
Until finally he does what he really wants–that is to say what his deepest self wants. And essentially want he wants is to love. Which he does. Then he can go on.
Thematically Groundhog Day echoes It’s Wonderful Life, although the problem that needs solving is the opposite. Bill Murray’s character learns to give love; James Stewart’s character learns to let people love him. Which is sort of the same.
What a double feature.
Last night I had a dream that I’d wasted my life. There was nothing left to do. It was a feeling I’d gone around with yesterday—that I’d played my last card.
In the dream I wound up at a kids’ party. I watched them play. I wasn’t sure if I’d been invited.
I knew the woman hosting the party. I’d looked up to her when I was young, but she died bitter, disillusioned.
In the dream she said to me, “It’s random.”
Meaning, there’s nothing to do. There is no game. Just graze, follow your nose, don’t put anything on it.
Then, in the dream, I had the thought: I can do anything.
Buckminister Fuller tells the story of a low point in his life when he stood on the shore of Lake Michigan and contemplated drowning. Then he decided that if he was done living for himself, he could stick around and live for others.
Since my last post, I’d resolved to write nothing here that I couldn’t take some joy from. I was starting to think it wasn’t going to come, but this morning I couldn’t get Groundhog Day out of my mind.
I went to write about it in my journal and decided to leave it here.
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